Sorry it's taken a while to respond. It's a big question, and there are lots of answers.
True, there are lots of coffee farmers out there at the moment who are doing ad-hoc experiments on their own farms, discovering how processing impacts their own coffee. The intention and desire is to enhance the quality of the coffee on their own farm, and explore the enhanced flavors (and enhanced income) that can come along with better/different processing. Often, these experiments are supported by a roaster-partner, who may help design the experiment, do the cupping, buy the experimental coffee (good or bad), etc. Here are some individual farmers (or farms or cooperatives) who I have firsthand knowledge of who have done this kind of experimentation:
Aida Batlle, Abdullah Bagersh, Graciano Cruz, the Peterson Family, CENFROCAFE Peru, Miguel Meza...
The roasters/buyers I know of who have supported this kind of work are Intelligentsia, my company (Counter Culture), Novo Coffee/Joseph Brodsky/90plus, Willem Boot...
I am sure I have left lots of names off of the above, and I apologize to anyone I have met who I left off this list. I look forward to farmers/buyers who have supported this kind of experimentation to add to the above list!!! Please let us know if you are doing this kind of work!!!
Now, the above cannot fairly be called "research". It is very specific and practical, aimed at a particular farm or a particular buyer, and meant to be useful ,NOT scientific. Scientific research is a different thing and requires a different standard of design and analysis. Scientific bodies who do research are often funded by a coffee-growing country's government, like the Colombian Coffee Federation's research lab, CATIE in Costa Rica, ITRI in Indonesia, CRF in Kenya, ISIC in El Salvador, etc. etc. etc. You might also check out international players like CIRAD, CIAT, and ASIC. Confused by all the acronyms? Me too. ASIC would be a good place to start, but be prepared to put on your research cap. Unfortunately, not much of this kind of research is available to (or understandable by) the ordinary coffee professional. This is a problem, but there is an exciting development aimed at changing this (see the end of the email for a teaser). One thing deserves mention here: beginning in 2006, Intelligentsia and Counter Culture (forgive any perceived self-promotion, I'm just trying to share) cooperated with the PEARL/SPREAD project to do a series of research projects in Rwanda in processing. The experiments were collaboratively designed, and overseen by Dr. Tim Shilling. Results were shared with the Roasters Guild members at the 2007 and 2008 Roasters Guild Retreats, and at the SCAA Symposium last year. I mention this to point out that it is possible for all roasters/buyers to collaborate with researchers and support real scientific study. Big, big multinational buyers often support research, but rarely share the results. I prevail on all Specialty folks to do our best to share the results of our work. Coffeed has been a great clearinghouse of this so far, as have the Roasters Retreats. SCAA Symposium was designed for just this purpose.
And here's where I get to tease you guys: a project is afoot that may change the way coffee research is done, and what is available to the coffee community. It's a big deal, and it's building. The project will be unveiled at this year's Symposium. I hate to be cagey, but I can't really say any more just yet. Come to Symposium or be in contact with someone who will be there to learn more. I'll share as much as I can with you guys as things evolve.
Mysteriously yours, I hope this has been some help Hunt,
Specialty Coffee Association of America